You’ve heard the name in passing, friends or coworkers talking about the curious new artist with the disastrous performance on Saturday Night Live, so you look her up on YouTube.
This is what you find.
A beautiful young girl with a sultry voice that evokes the best moments of Tori Amos from the 90s.
But, there’s something wrong.
The beauty is artificial. Sculpted with a surgeon’s knife and approaching the alienating expanse of the uncanny valley.
The music is crafted so she won’t have to push out of her vocal range, organized into easily editable phrases that can be cut together from multiple takes and written by song writers that know just what strings to tug in their audience.
The video is just like a few others she put out, a mix of public domain footage and moments of her mouthing the words at the camera, head askew in an awkward attempt at demure sexuality.
If everything about Lana Del Ray smacks of artificial, untenable perfection because that’s just what it is.
Her real name is Elizabeth Grant, and she’s a millionaire’s daughter. Her father made his money by jumping on thousands of domains in the early days of the internet and charging people to lease them from him. Which meant that he had the capital to indulge his daughter when she wanted to become a star. He’s hired managers, producers, song writers, stylists and god knows what else to turn his daughter into this impossible thing.
Elizabeth’s been at this for years, trying to find the right combination of things to fit her unique style of might-be talent. It took them five years and who knows how many marketing reps to settle on the Lana Del Rey name
She released her first EP in 2008, then a full album in 2011 – neither of which are publicly available any more because a decision was made by her “team” to pull them so they’d have a clean field for the newest iteration of the Lana Del Rey construct.
Which about catches us up to the slow motion car wreck that was her on SNL.
Normally, I’d be at head of the pack, racing into savage a pop star for their hubris and lack of talent. But, there’s something different here. To me the story isn’t about how she can’t perform live, the story is about how she was made.
With digital recording technology we can already create singing computer programs to power virtual pop idols. With Lana Del Rey, though, we’re now coming at it from the infinite-number-of-monkeys-with-type-writers direction. Provided a person hits every note in a song just once while be recorded, the song can be sutured together with ones and zeroes into something that sounds like it was done in a single take.
And when a creation like Lana Del Rey steps out onto a live stage, how can you expect such a meticulously crafted illusion to hold up? It would be akin to asking Peter Jackson to do The Lord of the Rings live…in one take.
Lana Del Rey does give me a bit of hope, though. Hope that the same technology that was used to build her will be used by more interesting people to do more interesting things, and they’ll be the ones that push the horizon out just a bit more.
(I will admit I’ve found myself humming the hook to Video Games without realizing it.)